When public opinion on policy is driven by misconceptions, refute them

Abstract:

The Common Core Standards, or a close variant, are the standards of record in approximately 40 states. Once popular, the standards have seen their support decline on both the right and the left. Previous research suggests that Americans hold a number of misconceptions about the standards, and that these misconceptions are strongly related to their support or opposition.

We see misconceptions about policies as a need worth addressing. If the public does not understand a policy (or even worse, misunderstands it), they may accept or reject it based on misinformation. To begin to tackle this issue, we test an approach called a “refutation text” meant to correct people’s misconceptions about an issue. While refutation texts have been widely used to correct misconceptions about controversial science issues (e.g., global warming, GMOs), to our knowledge they have never been tested to correct misconceptions about policy.

We use a sample of respondents from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and test the impact of a refutation text on respondents’ misconceptions about the standards. We also test whether the refutation text reduces partisan views about the standards. Finally, we follow up with participants one week later to see whether the effects persist.

Our data confirm that substantial misconceptions about the standards continue to exist. In fact, very few respondents held correct conceptions about five aspects of Common Core standards. Our data also confirm that views toward the standards are tepid—very close to the middle of the scale on a 5-point oppose-to-support scale.

However, our results suggest that the simple refutation text we created substantially reduces people’s misconceptions about Common Core and increases their correct conceptions. Even a week later, there are large differences between those who read the refutation text and those who read a control text in their conceptions and misconceptions about the standards. Furthermore, the refutation text reduced to zero the partisan effect on support for the standards. Finally, the text improved people’s attitudes toward the standards.

Cite:

Aguilar, S. J., Polikoff, M. S., & Sinatra, G. M. (2018). When public opinion on policy is driven by misconceptions, refute them. Brookings Evidence Speaks Reports, 2(36), 1-11

PDF: